Explore Street Art in Amsterdam

Street art or graffiti is broadly defined as an artistic expression which is mainly connected to intervention in the city landscape. Its popularity raised through prominent, well known figures such as Banksy or Keith Haring whose works are preserved in cities across the world as well as exhibited by museums. Historically street art evolved in America, 1960’s, with significantly high activity levels in New York and Los Angeles. Generally speaking, street art is historical tradition of painting murals and tagging, writing and stencilling in public spaces. It is an art form often performed within the city landscape where the walls of the city are used as canvas or a stage setting for the artist’s self-expression. Through writings, the expression of social criticism or protest and ongoing communication to a specific group rigorously takes place. Its adrenaline related illegally situational practice is thriving through the intention of personal expression.  

Not too long ago, there had been a shift of perception from graffiti as ‘vandalism’  towards graffiti as an aesthetic practice. Often purposively selected artworks are used to develop the city landscape and city identity. The artist in this case is playing a social role while reflecting on cultural and social background. And city landscape is a shared domain shaping inhabitants’ life. That can support the creation of the city areas which otherwise would be abandoned – it can raise the level of creativity and attract interest to the area through visual practices. It is important to preserve these pictorial practices of graffiti art and deliver its true contexts to new audiences, educate them and help them to understand the language of graffiti artist sub-cultures. 

 Positive street art preservation practices are done in Amsterdam. As a city it is one of the most diverse in its innumerable graffiti art expressions, and the communication through this art form touches both, local and internationally important themes. In Amsterdam graffiti art scene developed in the mid 70’s as a practice of street writings such as poetic statements… ‘People die and are unhappy’… or ‘love’ related writings invited the reader to read these messages as philosophical truths. However, only few were able to read its secret code messages. Usually these practices took place in the areas where buildings were destined for destruction and remained unused. Another strong theme such as abusive language, was practiced by youth writers, mainly on the walls of restricted objects such as churches, tunnels, fences, buildings. That was definitely a social protest and scream towards others to listen to their emotion, still noticeable today if walking through city streets. However, most offensive graffiti practices were ‘cleaned’ and never preserved. 

  The recent technological advantages are used in favour to engage with audiences. For example, Street Art Museum Amsterdam suggests using new technological developments such as VR (Virtual reality) to interact with broader audiences and communicate the meaning of the artworks. The activities of museum included a crowd funding campaign in 2015 to preserve the artworks from Amsterdam threatened by demolition and it resulted in preservation of 457 images entirely reconstructed by the technology of 3D which further allow to represent these artworks on the digital screens. Today every visitor of Amsterdam city can participate either in Virtual reality tours or guided tours within a three-kilometre radius while viewing more than 200 contemporary street art works across the Amsterdam city areas. Without preservation graffiti art will be lost, and only meaningless spray paint marks will be decorating walls of the city.

 Visual Credits: Street Art Museum Amsterdam, Moco Museum, Culture Trip